How to Find Confectionery Packaging’s Sweet Spot

How the confectionery market is responding to changing consumer preferences and how brands can benefit through packaging.

Kevin Murphy, Managing Director

March 7, 2023

6 Min Read
Peter Dazeley/Image Bank via Getty Images

Prior to Covid-19, packaging providers were already helping the confectionery industry adapt to its rapidly changing consumer profile. The pandemic only made our job more complex. But as a new customer emerged, so did opportunities and incentives for brands to embrace sustainable packaging. 

We observed two significant shifts influencing the rise in sustainable confectionery packaging over the past decade: a focus on higher quality ingredients and greater concern for production practices. 

1. A more selective sweet tooth.

Consumers are more selective when it comes to their diet than they were a decade ago, and this has been particularly impactful on consumer purchasing behavior regarding sweets. 

Consider the rise in demand for these three “free” product types: vegan/dairy-free, lactose-free, and palm oil-free.

We’ve also seen confectionery products adapt to better resonate with their market such as:

  • Reduced/sugar-free options for children and diabetics.

  • No artificial dyes or gluten for sufferers of food allergy/sensitivities

  • Swapping out high fructose corn syrup with real fruit juices for vitamin-rich alternatives

Brands need to make these product adjustments and they need to ensure that their packaging effectively communicates these changes. According to the National Confectioners Association 2022 report, the package “callouts” resonating most with consumers are:

  • “Real” (real fruit etc.);

  • Natural vs. artificial flavors;

  • Natural vs. artificial colors; and

  • “All natural”.

This need for clear health messaging is more complicated for confectionery packaging compared to other types of products . 

That same NCA report confirms what confection marketers have told packaging partners like us for years: confectionery purchases are primarily driven by mood, price, and brand. That means companies need packaging that integrates these callouts in a way that won’t impede design or douse that initial impulse to buy.

As packaging suppliers, we’ve always had to find a way to make these products grab consumer attention, appeal to their tastes, and keep production costs down all while aligning to brand identity.

The need to communicate health-based information on confectionery packaging sent us back to the drawing board once more. Now we were tasked with calibrating style and material options that would reflect health as well as indulgence. 


2. Ethical production encompasses sustainability.

Another factor that heavily influences the demand for sustainable packaging is the relationship between product quality and ethical practices within the confectionery industry. 

Though chocolatiers and other sweets producers have been embracing organic ingredients and transparent production practices for decades, the demand for sustainable packaging rose exponentially as consumers adopted new eating habits such as veganism and dairy-free diets.

These demands for better ingredients, ethical practices, healthier alternatives, and sustainable packaging merged to create a new consumer; one which wasn’t impressed by products that boasted eco-friendly production yet came wrapped in packaging destined for the landfill. 

Across the industry we saw interest in sustainable packaging skyrocket and sweet makers adapted once again. Packaging providers had to jump through another hoop as we sat down with brands to find solutions that were enticing, informative, cost-effective, and now…eco-friendly.

The snack comeback and the rise of ecommerce.

Just when it seemed the confectionery industry finally had things under its thumb, the market was turned upside down yet again.

The pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, store closures, and other health measures radically altered our lifestyles and purchasing habits for months, changing the type and quantity of sweets we bought, as well as who we bought them for.

And as expected, this had major implications for confectionery packaging. 

‘Treat yourself’ goes from special indulgence to daily ritual.

With most of the world housebound for weeks on end, it’s no surprise that sweets consumption reached all-time highs in 2020. In our corner of the world, 39% of Brits claimed they ate sweets at least once a day. Apparently such habits die hard, as consumption frequency was holding steady at those same levels at the end of 2022.

Consumers pivoted away from traditional gifting and gravitated towards at-home indulgences and comfort such as sweatpants.

Likewise, confectionery brands also began experimenting with more casual attire. 

Greater functionality for quick access and single-serving options were embraced—even by luxury labels.

Confectionery packaging was also impacted by another, interesting effect of increased snacking: the NCA's report cites the rising popularity of smaller types of candy, such as truffles, bites, and chips. 

Now, brands were approaching packagers with yet another criterion: functionality. And we responded to the call with eco-friendly pouches, cylindrical paper tubes, and plastic-free single-serving wrapping.

Ecommerce creates more opportunities for brands — and new challenges for packaging.

Despite Covid-19’s negative effect on the industry, it did change the landscape through greater ecommerce opportunities. Consumers turned to online sales in droves during the lockdown periods, with online confectionery sales increasing by a whopping 75% in 2020 alone.

This has proven invaluable for smaller specialty brands, which can more easily engage with and sell to consumers via social media and online marketplaces. Packagers, however, are now tasked with helping confectionery brands source large amounts of additional packaging for safe and cost-effective transport of their products. And of course, this also needs to be sustainable.

Yet there’s reason for optimism because, despite the devastating effect the pandemic has had on the industry, the market showed signs of recovery around the globe in 2022. 

The UK confectionery industry saw modest yet hopeful growth of 1.2% as virtually all health measures were withdrawn. That same year, seasonal Valentine’s Day confectionery sales set all-time records in the US, breaking the $4 billion-mark for the first time in history. 

Advances in digital printing, sustainable materials, and production techniques combined with greater consumer demand for greener practices have also encouraged those of us in packaging. I speak confidently on behalf of our industry that we’ve never been so aptly equipped as we are today to meet the ever-changing needs of confectionery packaging.

The new confectionery consumer and confectionery packaging takeaways.

So how should confectionery brands utilize sustainable packaging to attract this new consumer? Here are key factors to consider:

Weave substance into your brand story.

Today consumers care about what they’re eating and how it’s made more than ever—but mood, price, and brand still reign as purchasing drivers. Products need packaging that seamlessly integrates information about flavor, quality, and sustainability with the brand’s identity.

Design with function in mind.

With self-gifting, impulse purchases, and snacking at all-time highs, confectionery packaging must be designed with both visual appeal and convenience.

Customize for ecommerce.

The rise in ecommerce confectionery sales means products not only need to stand out online, they also need to arrive fresh to customers and packaged in a way that reflects where brands stand on sustainability. 

Aim for maximum impact.

The industry is changing when it comes to sustainability. And yes, businesses need to keep up. But in a recovering economy and competitive market, the bottom line gets the final word. Prioritize small shifts that are highly visible and relevant to your consumer base, and or cost-effective to your company before taking on bigger eco-friendly practices.

Be upfront about your environmental efforts.

Sustainability may be a marketing buzzword, but ultimately people want transparency. No move towards greener practices is too small to mention. Being honest about where your company is eco-wise and what it’s aiming for fosters consumer trust.

Consult with experienced printing professionals.

Whether it’s your current printing provider, a trusted referral, or an industry leader, avoid missteps that cost your business time and money by getting advice from people who are well-versed in the opportunities and pitfalls of sustainable packaging.

Kevin Murphy is the Managing Director of CoLab Packaging, a producer of innovative and sustainable digitally printed, custom packaging. Murphy has more than 30 years of experience in the printing industry and applies his expertise in leading his team to collaborate with brands to deliver personalized experiences to their customers.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Murphy

Managing Director, CoLab Packaging

Kevin Murphy is the Managing Director of CoLab Packaging, a producer of innovative and sustainable digitally printed, custom packaging. Murphy has more than 30 years of experience in the printing industry and applies his expertise in leading his team to collaborate with brands to deliver personalized experiences to their customers.

More information can be found at his LinkedIn profile; he can also be reached by email via [email protected]

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